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Paul Weller
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Paul Weller

Paul Weller (born May 25, 1958 in Woking, Surrey, UK) is a British singer / songwriter who has been one of the biggest influences on British popular music for more than a quarter of a century now, and has indeed become something of a national institution. However, it is perhaps because of the fact that so much of his songwriting is so rooted in the culture of the UK that his music has never travelled particularly well, and he has remained essentially a national rather than international star.

Weller, born in Woking, Surrey, in the south of England, first burst onto the national music scene in 1977 with his first band, The Jam, which he had formed a few years earlier as a teenager with his friends Rick Buckler (drums) and Bruce Foxton (bass). Weller himself took lead vocal duties and was a scintillating lead guitarist, in later years even being compared to Clapton in some circles.

1977 was the year after the first wave of punk bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks and of course The Clash had first exploded onto the scene. Although The Jam's music had much of the fire and the passion of those bands, in terms of song writing ability and intelligence of lyrical content, The Jam were more in the mould of the so-called 'new wave' bands who came later on. Also, being just outside of London rather than in it, they were never really part of the tightly-knit and resentful punk clique, perhaps inspiring Weller's lines in The Jam's very first single In The City: "In the city there's a thousand things I want to say to you, but every time I approach you, you make me look a fool."

Nonetheless, The Clash were suitably impressed by The Jam to take them along as the support act on their White Riot tour of 1977. Politically, Weller was inspired by the left-wing stance of the senior band's Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, although the admiration does not seem to have been mutual. Indeed, in their song White Man (In Hammersmith Palais), Strummer sings "You think it's funny, turning rebellion into money" - a line aimed at The Jam, who The Clash seem to have regarded as being too commercial and not in the true spirit of the punk movement. Perhaps it was merely sour grapes, as The Jam went on to be far more successful, at least in terms of the singles charts, than The Clash in the UK.

In The City took The Jam into the Top 40 for the first time in May 1977, although it would take another two years and eight singles before they were sufficiently engrained in the British national consciousness for The Eton Rifles to break the Top 10, hitting the No. 3 spot in November 1979.

From then on there was no stopping them - their blend of passionate playing, killer pop tunes and righteous left-wing politics propelled them into the stratosphere, and in 1980 they hit No. 1 for the first time with what many believe to be the 'definitive' Paul Weller song - Going Underground, which was to become in effect the band's signature tune. Legend has it that Going Underground hitting the charts at all was in fact an accident - allegedly, it was supposed to be only the B-side to Dreams of Children, an all right but not spectacular song, but a mistake at a French pressing plant meant both songs were given 'A' status on the label so they had to be released as a double A-side. Whether this is true or just a good story is unknown, but whatever the case after Going Underground, The Jam - and Weller in particular - were UK superstars.

Weller was strongly influenced by sixties bands such as The Kinks and The Who, both great favourites of his whose presence can be felt in much of The Jam's material. However, that didn't mean that he was averse to finding inspiration in the works of many other artists: the Jam's second No. 1 single, Start! borrows so heavily from The Beatles' Taxman that George Harrison would probably not have been unreasonable in asking for a co-writer's credit. The group's third No. 1, the legendary Town Called Malice which has more recently found renewed fame on the Billy Elliott soundtrack, has a driving bass line lifted straight from The Supremes' You Can't Hurry Love.

There is no doubting that in the early 1980s, The Jam were the biggest band in Britain. They even had one single, That's Entertainment, that reached No. 21 in the UK charts despite not even being released in this country - it got there purely on the strength of the huge number of people buying import sales of the German single release. They could do no wrong, but Weller was eager to explore other musical avenues he felt he could not go down with The Jam. Later Jam songs such as The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) - often described by critics as a Style Council song pretending to be a Jam song - showed that he longed to write in a perhaps more melodic, soulful style. In short, he had taken The Jam as far as he could and was eager to move on.

Thus in late 1982, Weller shocked fans and the press - as well as his band mates Buckler and Foxton - by announcing that The Jam were to disband at the end of the year. Their final single, Beat Surrender, became their fourth chart topper, going straight in at No. 1 in its first week, which was still very rare in those days, and their farewell concerts at Wembley Arena could have been sold out twenty times over.

So as 1983 dawned, The Jam were no more and everybody was asking, what now for Weller? The answer emerged in the form of collaboration with his friend, keyboard player Mick Talbot, to form a new group called The Style Council. A very different kettle of fish to The Jam, the Style Council played a whole range of different musical styles, from outright pop to jazz, soul and the occasional ballad.

That's not to say that the Style Council were completely untouched by the spirit of The Jam - indeed, one of their early singles A Solid Bond In Your Heart was originally written and recorded during The Jam era, and this earlier version turned up on that bands Extras compilation. And if The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow) really is a Style Council song pretending to be a Jam song, then surely 1985's Walls Come Tumbling Down is none other than a Jam song hiding under Style Council colours.

Although the Style Council were never quite as successful chart-wise as The Jam had been - they never had a No. 1 single, for one thing - that didn't stop the mid-1980s from being possibly the peak of Weller's high profile in the UK. He appeared on 1984's legendary Band Aid record Do They Know It's Christmas? (although his major contribution was probably to mime the unavailable Bono's part on the Top of the Pops performance of the song) and the Style Council were the second act on in the British half of Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.

Despite this success at home, the Style Council were little more successful internationally than The Jam had been, with My Ever Changing Moods providing them with their one and only single to ever trouble the US Billboard Chart's Top 40. As the 1980s wore on, the Style Council's popularity in the UK itself began to slide, with none of their singles even reaching the Top 20 any more. For the first time in Paul Weller's career, he found himself somewhat in the shade, and the death-knell of The Style Council was sounded in 1989 when their record company refused to even release their fifth and final album, Modernism - a New Decade, although this did eventually appear on the Complete Adventures of the Style Council retrospective box set.

As the 1990s dawned, Weller disbanded the Council and went pretty quiet for a few years, before returning to prominence as one of the major influences behind the mid-1990s 'Britpop' movement that gave rise to such bands as Oasis and Blur, both of whom were heavily influenced by The Jam in particular. Weller even appeared as a guest guitarist and backing vocalist on Oasis's seminal 1995 album (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, perhaps the defining moment of Britpop. In particular, Weller was important in the of Ocean Colour Scene, and members of that band, particularly guitarist Steve Cradock played in his backing band.

However, his role was not purely that of a mere influence: his own 1995 album Stanley Road (named after the street in Woking where he had grown up) propelled him back to the top of the British charts, and indeed went on to become the best selling album of his entire career. It marked a return to the more guitar-based style of his earlier days, albeit with a more grown-up mature edge than the sheer adrenaline rush The Jam had provided. The album's major single, The Changingman, was also a big hit, taking Weller back into the Top 10 of the singles charts.

His influence over the 1990s generation of British guitar bands had earned him the affectionate nickname 'The Modfather', and the late 1990s saw him cement his position as one of Britain's major musical figures. In 1996 he collaborated with Oasis's guitarist / songwriter Noel Gallagher and none other than Paul McCartney to form the 'super group' Smokin' Mojo Filters, releasing a version of The Beatles' hit Come Together. New Jam and Style Council 'best of' albums took his earlier career back into the charts, and his own solo 'best of' collection Modern Classics was a substantial success in 1998.

The year 2000 saw the release of his fifth solo studio album and seventh solo effort overall (as well as the Modern Classics compilation, there had also been the 1994 live album Live Wood), called Heliocentric. There were rumours at the time that this was to be his final studio effort, but these proved unfounded when he released the No. 1 hit album Illumination in September 2002, preceded by yet another top ten hit single It's Written in the Stars. Between these two albums he had also released a second successful live album, 2001's Days of Speed, on which he performed acoustic versions of some of his best-known songs not just from his solo career but from The Jam and Style Council back catalogues as well.

Proving that interest still remained in his seminal days of the 1970s and 80s, no less than three of his songs - two Style Council numbers and a Jam song - turned up on the soundtrack of 2001's hit British movie Billy Elliott, bringing him a whole new generation of fans to discover his music.

For evidence of his continued popularity, one need look no further than the poll run by British national radio station Virgin Radio in December 2002 to find the Top 100 British Artists of all time. More than 25,000 listeners voted, and in the final results revealed on 31st December, The Style Council came in at No. 97, Weller as a solo artist at No. 21 and The Jam at No. 5 - ahead of such acts as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash and Weller's own heroes such as The Who and The Kinks.

So, more than a quarter of a century now since The Jam first exploded onto the scene, Paul Weller is still at the top of his game and still making successful, popular music. Some may question whether or not the fire and vigour of his left-wing political ideas still remains, but as long as the music is still good it seems as though the British record buying public will flock to his good whatever the case.

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